The State Of Modern
Modern is a complex format in magic, it’s constantly evolving and changing. As Wizards of the Coast tries to define the power level for the format, players simultaneously try to push the limits to find the most powerful deck available. Each year, there’s a trend where the most powerful new deck rises to the top of the metagame and occupies most of the format’s share. At that point, one of two things likely happen.
In the first scenario, players will find a deck that has the means to beat the ‘best deck,’ but is still competitive against other popular decks in the format. When that is achieved, the new “best deck’ will start to gain popularity and the old best deck will fade into obscurity for a few months.
In the second scenario, if this ‘best deck’ begins to run rampant and dominate the format, diversity is lost, and players are unable to find a deck that can beat it, Wizards will issue a ban on a fundamental card to the deck’s strategy. This process has run its course throughout the life of the Modern format and many cards were declared too powerful. Some include, Punishing Fire, Deathrite Shaman, Bloodbraid Elf, Dig Through Time, and Green Sun's Zenith have all been banned from Modern. Wizards’ threshold for power in Modern is referred to as the Turn 4 Rule; they don’t allow any deck that can consistently win before turn 4. This has been the norm for us modern aficionados for years, and it doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon.
A little over a month ago, Wizards shook things up for the format and banned two impactful cards in modern. First, they banned Summer Bloom. It was expected to get the banhammer though since it enabled ridiculously fast starts and a relatively consistent turn two or three kill utilizing Primeval Titan. Second, the Splinter Twin banning surprised everyone though. There were many variants of ‘twin’ that won modern tourneys consistently, but it never consumed a large enough percent of the modern metagame for it to feel oppressive in any way. After Splinter Twin was banned, we entered into what I like to call ‘The Fallout.’
With Twin gone, it meant that the reigning blue deck was missing from the format. Brewers scrambled to stitch together the best thing they could from the ashes of it to keep blue alive. Spikes scoured the internet for the new ‘best deck.’
Speculators thought that Tron would be the new reigning king - a deck that uses the 3 ‘urza’s lands’ to generate 7 mana on turn 3 and win with things like Karn Liberated. Many players thought that Twin, which constantly threatened to win on or after turn 4, held Tron in check. But now it seemed like it was time for Tron to flourish and take over.
There was also room for other decks like Infect, Storm, and Living End as well without a blue counterspell deck in the picture to ruin their plans. This left interactive midrange decks out in the cold. They could hold their own against aggro, but they really preyed on slower decks; midrange had a hard time interacting with linear strategies like Tron and burn since they don’t run counterspells.
Many midrange enthusiasts across the internet recommended that other players put down those decks and move on to something else, or take a break from modern altogether until things shifted again. Most professional players who were fans of midrange, did not speak about the state of modern at this time. Although, many websites like ChannelFireball and MTGGoldfish agreed that midrange was in a bad place, and would likely not be as competitive as it had been in the past.
As outlined above, many players adopted a ‘sky-is-falling’ attitude when it came to midrange decks in modern after the January 2016 banlist announcement. No one expected the Channel Fireball and Team Face to Face to brew an Eldrazi deck that could play two turns ahead on the mana curve compared to any other deck. Their deck and other Eldrazi decks dominated the Pro Tour and are currently over 50% of the metagame in Magic: The Gathering Online and high level events.
Traditional midrange has a tough time dealing with their large and disruptive creatures but it isn’t dead. I’m going to go over some well known midrange decks and how they adapted in the ‘Eldrazi Winter.’
Just Play Jund
What makes Jund good is not synergy, but rather sheer card quality. B/G/X plays some of the most powerful cards in modern, some of which are hilariously anti-synergistic. In the past, players used a single Tasigur, the Golden Fang alongside their 4 copies of Dark Confidant. Even with the potential to lose 6 life, I still do this in my personal deck. It may seem like an issue but, the odds of actually flipping Tasigur off of Bob are extremely minimal. Let’s take a look at the card quality and see why people want to play it.
Proactive discard like Inquisition of Kozilek is good against almost any deck, since three CMC covers 90% of most cards played in modern. Thoughtseize is painful and may be bad against burn, but it’s a necessary evil to make sure that no card is beyond your grasp. These hand-rip spells are especially good on the play. Targeted discard is the best possible turn one play for a midrange deck, it has the potential to ruin your opponent’s opening hand.
Lightning Bolt Resistant
Lightning Bolt remains to be the most played spell in modern, with 32% of Modern decks over the last two months having a full playset. It’s both superb early game removal and can close out the game. Tarmogoyf is the most efficient beater in modern and can easily survive Lightning Bolt, with a turn 1 fetch, into Inquisition, he will be a ⅔ and if your opponent bolts him, the instant will go to the graveyard and he’ll grow to a ¾ as a state-based action.
Tarmogoyf, Liliana, and Bob
Being bolt-proof is big, but you’ll need one of the deck’s artifacts, creatures, enchantments or planeswalkers in the graveyard by next turn to block an early Thought-Knot Seer. It can get there with the one of Seal of Fire or Liliana’s +1 to discard something from your hand.
Speaking of which, another heavy hitter is Liliana of the Veil. She represents this ultimatum for your opponents: “Anything left in your hand will be discarded, and any creature you play will be sacrificed.” Upticking her puts immense pressure on the opponent.They need to find an answer as quickly as possible-with a smaller hand, lest you threaten her third ability, which is almost an auto-loss for the opponent.
Of course we can’t forget about Bob! Another one of Modern’s all-star creatures, Dark Confidant. He is one of the most powerful sources of card draw in the format. He’s amazing. He repeatedly draws cards, which will bury your opponents if left unanswered, netting some serious value. A Bob ignoring opponent is a dead opponent. To capitalize on having him in the deck, Jund decks have a low CMC to minimize damage from Bob’s card draw.
Now, What about Eldrazi?
The Eldrazi decks dominated the top 8’s of the last two Pro level events and they’re currently holding over 60% of the metagame on Magic Online. Jund needs some good options against Eldrazi to stay competitive. Let’s look at the options.
A card that poses to completely shut down the fast mana in Eldrazi is Painter's servant. However, he’s narrow and doesn’t directly work with the Jund game plan so just adding 1 to the sideboard is effective. I do like Big Game Hunter though. There’s nothing like discarding him with madness to a Reality Smasher after you kill it with removal and killing another eldrazi with Hunter’s ability. You could also discard the hunter to your own Liliana’s +1 ability. Another option is Golgari Charm for an early game answer to Eldrazi Mimic, which many players think is as much a problem as Eye of Ugin. The -1/-1 mode can also be relevant against a large amount of other aggro decks in the format. With the rise of said aggro decks, many decks are running Board Wipes maindeck, and Golgari Charm works to keep your board intact as well. There will always plenty of enchantments to destroy, allowing it to act as an extra Abrupt Decay/Maelstrom Pulse when you need it. For these reasons, I think the charm earns its sideboard slot, and possibly a maindeck slot in some metas. Other cards that could be good are Damnation, for obvious reasons, and Hissing Quagmire which acts as another kill spell.
Below is a Jund deck that I feel would be able compete in the current meta:
|Maindeck Changes||Sideboard Changes|
|1x Twilight Mire||2x Kitchen Finks|
|1x Raging Ravine||1x Duress|
|1x Scavenging Ooze||1x Thoughtseize|
|1x Thoughtseize||1x Disfigure|
|1x Liliana of the Veil||1x Grim Lavamancer|
|1x Courser of Kruphix|
|1x Dreadbore||1x Surgical Extraction|
|2x Hissing Quagmire||1x Damnation|
|1x Huntmaster of the Fells||1x Golgari Charm|
|1x Damnation||1x Painter’s Servant|
|2x Big Game Hunter|
|1x Olivia Voldaren|
|1x Obstinate Baloth|
The first thing I changed from Reid’s list was to add a single Dreadbore. Along with Maelstrom Pulse, this provides another way to deal with Tron’s large Planewalkers, but it’s only 2 cmc which makes a big difference when you want to cast it on Reality Smasher turn 3 and discard BGH. Hard Kill spells are necessary in the world of large creatures, and for that reason I also kept his Slaughter Pact. I added Hissing Quagmire as another way to deal with large Eldrazi. It can’t keep Reality Smasher from trampling, but it will guarantee he won’t be back a second time. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet stayed as a 2 of. He’s a bit slow, but if you untap with him, you start to generate tons of value by creating additional zombie blockers and you can grow him out of Dismember range. I really liked Reid’s ideas with Seal of fire to get instant value off of Kalitas and grow Tarmogoyf even larger. With Seal in the deck, your Lhurgoyfs will be Dismember-proof, and capable of roadblocking Reality Smasher and Co. I also made room for a Huntmaster of the Fells. Once you generate traction and stagger the Eldrazi deck, the late game is where you want to be and it’s likely that they won’t have a hand, which means Ravager can come out to play and you can even flip it back and forth for ridiculous value. I trimmed a Thoughtseize because this meta is very hostile towards life totals. With so much aggro I added a Damnation to the main deck and sideboard to act as a board stabilizer.
In the sideboard, I added 2 Surgical Extraction, which may seem like an odd inclusion in the meta, but I feel like it’s a nice tool to disrupt Eldrazi for 1 mana or 2 life, at instant speed. If you can force discard of any of their key threats, or kill one, you can get rid of it for good. Obviously, this has merit against other midrange, and various control and combo that you might run across as well. An additional Damnation was added for obvious reasons . Golgari Charm and Painter's Servant were included, along with Big Game Hunter and Olivia Voldaren. She seems too slow but in the presence of small creatures, she just takes over the game. Obstinate Baloth is also great to discard to your own Liliana or a Reality Smasher trigger.
Overall the deck is now more suited to take on Eldrazi without sacrificing too large of a percentage against the other decks.
That Other B/G/X Deck
With the release of the Khans of Tarkir set came Siege Rhino. A lot of players saw that card to be so powerful, it warped all the previous G/B/W (‘Junk’) decks around it. It propelled this archetype into tier 1 status for the majority of 2015 and is still a popular deck today. Here is a deck list by Jake Meszaros, from ManaDeprived.com:
Abzan compared to Jund
Abzan maintains the same core top quality cards that have always served Jund mages well. In exchange for Lightning Bolt there is Path to Exile. Without Terminate, they run a full set of Abrupt Decay. The white mana also allows them to run the aforementioned Siege Rhino and at it’s power level, they run a full playset. This puts Bob in a rough position to cause some serious self damage, so Abzan Mages forsake him.
Rhino really shines because can roadblock most of the biggest creatures in the format, and he comes with a Lightning Helix attached. He’s also great at attacking with 5 power and trample. Since Bob is out of the picture, it also allows Abzan to have 2 Tasigurs.
Up against Eldrazi
If I were to tune this deck for the current meta, I would make room for the above outlined Eldrazi hate cards, as they are usable in this deck as well, being black and green. I would also make room for some of the Green/White discard-hate cards such as Loxodon Smiter, Obstinate Baloth, and Wilt-leaf Liege. Doom blade could also make an appearance-while it is rarely used in modern, it seems well-positioned for this meta, especially for a deck with a small number of hard kill spells.
Abzan is generally the slower deck when compared to Jund. For that reason, it is positioned worse in the meta as it also has no good early game plays against the Eldrazi decks. Path is a bad choice to use against a fast mana deck, and Abrupt Decay can only hit a few of their threats.
If I was to take an Abzan Midrange deck to a high level tournament, I would speed up the deck with the following changes:
|Maindeck Changes||Sideboard Changes|
|2x Stirring Wildwood||1x Batterskull|
|1x Twilight Mire||1x Stony Silence|
|1x Scavenging Ooze||1x Scavenging Ooze|
|2x Thoughtseize||3x Aven Mindcensor|
|1x Liliana of the Veil||1x Sorin, Solemn Visitor|
|2x Abrupt Decay||1x Path to Exile|
|2x Loxodon Smiter||1x Painter’s Servant|
|2x Hissing Quagmire||1x Big Game Hunter|
|1x Maelstrom Pulse||2x Loxodon Smiter|
|2x Doom Blade||1x Doom Blade|
|1x Slaughter Pact||1x Wilt-Leaf Liege|
|1x Seal of Doom||2x Obstinate Baloth|
The first thing to change were the Abrupt Decays. In a twin-less world, 4 is just too many. With the current state of the meta I added Doom blades, 2 main and 1 side. The next tweak was to lower the Thoughtseize count from 4 to 2. Even with all the lifegain, 4 just seems like too many where there’s already 3 Inquisitions. This allows room for other things like the 2 Loxodon Smiters in the main and 2 in the side. It’s a powerful beater and can be cast for free off both your Liliana’s +1, and a Reality Smasher kill. With the need to develop the board while still having flexibility, Slaughter pact was brought in. It’s nice to cast on turn 3 or 4 after tapping out. I also added 2 Hissing Quagmires to roadblock creatures, most notably Eldrazi. I upped Maelstrom Pulse to 2 copies, this helps deal with Tron’s Planewalkers, and with the prevalence of Aggro, it’s bound to 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 your opponents. Finally, I added Seal of Doom. Scoff at the 3 CMC kill spell if you must, but it provides the same benefits to your Tarmogoyfs as the Seal in Jund.
In the side, I added Painter's Servant, Big Game Hunter, 2 more Loxodon Smiter, another Doom Blade, a Wilt-leaf Liege, and a pair of Obstinate Baloths. It might appear this deck is metagaming pretty hard, but at closer inspection, this sideboard has all the hate you’d need. Land destruction, artifact hate, burn hate, aggro hate, etc. The discard hate cards can double as Jund and other Midrange hate, Loxodon Smiter also can’t be countered by those few control decks you might see.
Until Next Time
So there you have it: 2 midrange decks that can compete in the current meta while having a fighting chance against the Eldrazi decks.
Next time, I’ll go over some lesser known midrange decks and discuss how they can be competitive as well.
In closing I’d like to highlight a few points:
- As long as we have powerful threats and answers like Tarmogoyf and Liliana midrange will never be dead.
- Big Game Hunter is the best answer to Eldrazi for these decks, his madness can trigger off of killing Reality Smasher and if you target a smasher with his Enter-the-Battlefield ability, you won’t have to discard, because it’s a permanent targeting him, not a spell.
- Ensnaring Bridge was not mentioned intentionally because of World Breaker+Grove of the Burnwillows in almost every Eldrazi deck at SCG Louisville.
- Eye of Ugin is here to stay for at least few more months, so we’ll have to find ways to beat them (Aaron Forscythe, * Director of R&D at Wizards has stated on his twitter that no emergency bans will happen as a result of the Eldrazi Winter).
- Control and Aggro Decks have their weaknesses but it’s almost impossible to hate out a midrange deck, Eldrazi is the only prevalent deck that has the tools to overpower us.
- In modern, there are Problem decks and there are Answers Decks. Be an Answers Deck.
This was a lengthy article with some depth of analysis. If you made it this far, I congratulate you and thanks for reading!